Book of the week 'Jim Clark: the best of the best'

David Tremayne's latest book celebrates the all-too-short life of double Formula 1 champion Jim Clark

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When it comes to discussions of who is the greatest driver of all time Jim Clark almost invariably features among the very top contenders.

That’s despite his two Formula 1 titles, while an undeniably immense feat, paling compared to the seven of Michael Schumacher or the five won by Juan Manuel Fangio – on paper, at least.

Both Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna conquered every one of their contemporaries on the way to becoming a triple champion. Yet both revered Clark above everyone else. That in itself speaks volumes.

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And, with this weekend being the 50th anniversary of Clark’s death during the season opening round the European Formula 2 Championship, ensuring his legacy survives several generations on becomes an even greater task.

Evro Publishing’s Jim Clark: The best of the best leads the way on that front, capturing the Scot’s life through his formative years, racing success and untimely death. Written by renowned motorsport journalist David Tremayne, author of over 50 books including Donald Campbell: The Man behind the Mask, it’s an unexpectedly personal biography.

At first this sits somewhat uncomfortably on the page, as Tremayne’s interactions with fellow plane passengers or a stewardess read more like an account of his experiences of writing the book rather than about Clark himself.

But that’s soon flipped on its head. With the passage of time, those who knew Clark personally or simply watched him from afar becomes fewer ensuring that conveying why those around Clark found him so warming becomes integral.

The book opens on a strong note, with the foreword written by four-time IndyCar champion and three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Dario Franchitti. For him, Clark is number one but he’s quick to acknowledge that the 25-time grand prix winner died five years before he was born. But, as Franchitti says, that only adds to the mysticism surrounding him.

From there you’re into the fatal weekend at Hockenheim with five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell recalling his interactions with Clark, where he struggles to comprehend the humility and approachability of a driver with the world at his feet.

The remaining 500 pages celebrate the life and achievements littered throughout Clark’s career. Much like the film Senna, the fateful ending doesn’t permeate through, allowing you to get fully absorbed.

While best known for his time in F1, Clark’s achievements are remarkable for their sheer diversity. He won the 1964 British Saloon Car Championship, the Indy 500 the following year and then entered the RAC Rally as reigning F1 champion in 1966. It’s here where Tremayne’s work is most successful. He captures the immense scope of Clark’s career from club racing to Le Mans with remarkable detail across the way.

It may jump from discipline to discipline in successive paragraphs, but all the while it’s clear what race is being recounted, allowing the reader to revel in the sort of detail that simply isn’t readily available on the internet. High-speed motorway exploits in a Jaguar D-type for the sake of ‘clearing an engine’ and annihilating the field in an F2 race at Pau are particular highlights.

When the book does tackle the unresolved and disputed events of that weekend in 1968, the abiding sentiment is just how numb people were to learn of Clark’s death – that it could happen to him even in an age of extreme danger – making for a chilling few pages.

After the final chapters that offer an introspection into what made him so respected on-track and loved off it, the lasting impression is that Jim Clark: The best of the best reads like an unashamed love letter to the driver.

For those that perhaps place Stirling Moss, Gilles Villeneuve and so on as number one, Tremayne offers an utterly captivating case for putting Clark as the very best to have graced motorsport.

Jim Clark: The best of the best is avaliable to buy now for £80 RRP. For more, visit the Evro Publishing website.

Images courtesy of LAT and Sutton Images

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